Jake Emmerling of ‘Book of Mormon’ talks theater and life on the road as the tour lands at the Dr. Phillips Center

By : Jeremy Williams
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Jake Emmerling

You may not think there are any similarities between the outrageous animated TV series South Park and the family-friendly Disney film Frozen aside from they are both animated, but they do share another connection. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creative team behind South Park, and Robert Lopez, composer of those infectious Frozen songs, are the names behind one of Broadway’s most successful musicals, Book of Mormon.

Book of Mormon was a juggernaut when it opened on Broadway in 2011. The show went on to win nine Tony Awards including Best Musical, a Grammy for the Broadway cast album and spawned two massively successful national tours. Book of Mormon is now back in Central Florida with a run at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando playing now through Dec. 17.

Watermark had the opportunity to chat with Jake Emmerling, a member of the ensemble with Book of Mormon and who has been with the tour since it began in Chicago in 2012, ahead of the tour’s stop in Orlando.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a small town called Derry, Pennsylvania. It’s a town of like 2,700 people. It’s a little, cowtown [laughs]. It’s about an hour outside of Pittsburgh and that’s where I would go and see theater.

That’s where the love of theater began?

Yeah, growing up my parents exposed my to the theater world and my grandparents would take me to the opera and the symphony, and that’s how I developed my love of theater so that’s where I went to train for it. I went to the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera for Musical Theater. It was basically my second school, so I would go to my normal high school and then afterwards I would drive directly down to Pittsburgh, have classes in the evening, then drive back home the hour or so to Derry and do my homework. Then off to bed and up in the morning to do the exact same thing. But it was incredible, I loved it.

Looking back on those trips to Pittsburgh, do you remember what your first show was?

Les Miserable, when I was like seven or eight.

Les Miserable has a lot of heavy themes, especially for kids. Did you remember if you enjoyed it?

I remember thinking the musicality of it was so beautiful and how cool it was. The main thing that sticks out to me is we were always in the balcony and that is where the gunshot is at for the barricade so I hated sitting up there, and we would see the show every time it came through so I’ve seen the show there like 12 times, and I remember always prepping myself for when the gunshot was about to go off.

I also remember my mom and my grandparents would be crying by the end of it and I never understood why [laughing].

Is that the show that sold it for you and made you decide this is what you wanted to do?

I don’t know if it was so much an individual show that I saw that made it click for me. I would say though that The Lion King was a show that I saw and was completely blown away by. I was in awe of not only the production but also the entire idea of the theatrics behind it. It clicked for me more when I saw that one, like “I can’t believe they get to do this for a living,” but actually doing West Side Story in high school is what really made it click for me.

You are currently on the national tour of Book of Mormon, and this show has a bit of a reputation. So for those who haven’t heard of it or have been hesitant to learn about it, what is Book of Mormon about?

It’s two Mormon missionaries who are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and they are ready to go out and spread the word and change the world, and they get sent to Africa. In their conquest to spread the word and change the world they get hit with reality and it smacks them down a bit.

It’s very funny and crazy [laughs] but I think the biggest thing with the show is, and people ask me all the time if this is just a show that makes fun of Mormons, and it doesn’t do that. It uses Mormonism as the doorway to comment on religion as a whole.

You have been on the national tour since 2012. So it’s fair to say that you have seen most of the country’s reaction to this show. Have there been a lot of instances of people walking out or protesting the show?

It’s actually kind of surprising as we go into some of the smaller markets and we will assume because we are in the deep south or the “Bible Belt” that they won’t come or they won’t like it, but they come to the show and they laugh and they enjoy it. There are rare occurrences of people walking out or we have a more quieter audience during some of the jokes, but for the most part people love it.

With a national tour like this you are on the road almost all year long, and with you being on the tour since 2012, that’s a lot of different places to live a few days at a time.

Yeah, 85 cities total in North America. We just celebrated Thanksgiving in West Palm Beach instead of going home, but that is tour life and you adapt.

That kind of migrant lifestyle can sometimes mess with your sanity. What do you like to do to keep yourself clear and focused while on the road?

I always say, especially to newer performers coming into the show, try to find something that you are passionate about and love to do. Something as simple as when you get to a new city go out and explore it. Check out the local art and museums. Personally, I love to do photography so I do that on the side while traveling. That also helps me to get my creative juices flowing in another realm.

Book of Mormon will be in Orlando at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts; anything you are especially hoping to do while in Central Florida?

I am definitely excited to be going to Universal while there and checking out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Are you a Potterhead, and if so what’s your House?

Oh god yes! This is my first time going and seeing it and I cannot wait, and I am a Ravenclaw!

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